3 Misconceptions About Feeding Babies and Toddlers, Busted!

By Dawn Van Osdell

There’s a lot of contradictory and downright erroneous parenting info floating around out there. We’re not afraid to tackle it head-on!

Feeding a growing baby or toddler isn’t rocket science; we’ve been doing it for millennia! But these days, there’s so much conflicting advice about the matter—jarred food vs. homemade, first grains vs. first vegetable. And few parents ever receive professional advice on what foods, or how much of them, to offer the littlest of kids, which can leave them feeling clueless and overwhelmed by the responsibility. Worse: That lack of guidance results in more than 50 percent of toddlers in the U.S. receiving less than optimal amounts of the fruits and veggies they need to stay healthy, develop properly, and avoid long-term issues like obesity and behavioral problems.

How’s a parent to make sense of the issue? To find out, we talked to nutrition expert Dana Angelo White, RD, author of the book First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, to dispel three common myths about feeding growing bodies and minds.

Myth #1: I eat really well so I can just puree or chop whatever I’m eating for my baby. 

Truth: If your dinner is as well balanced as you think it is, you will eventually be able to make one meal that works for everyone in the family (with occasional slight modifications).  But babies and toddlers have very different nutritional needs than adults, says White, so you must meet the demands of their growing bodies. In the first three years of life, growth is more rapid than it will ever be. To support that, concentrate on nutrient-rich calories that provide plenty of calcium, Vitamin D, iron, and omega-3 fats. These are found in abundance in dairy products, eggs, tofu, salmon, walnuts, lentils, and leafy greens.

Myth #2: My child is a picky eater. I don’t stand a chance getting a “superfood” like kale or lentils into him.

Truth: Don’t assume you have a picky eater on your hands just because you see a snarling face or unpleasantly puckered puss; a lot of times, a sour kid face is an unconscious reaction to a foreign texture or flavor, says White. “Parents often make the mistake of striking a food off the list of options, assuming their child doesn’t like it, when they really just need more of a chance to get used to it,” she says, adding that it can take a child 10 tries before he determines whether or not he likes a food. To ease the way, try giving your child a new food alongside a food he’s already accustomed to eating—not to disguise the unfamiliar food, but to make it less overwhelming and frightening by association with something positive. Also, know that most children will eventually eat—and enjoy—a new food, even after they’ve initially turned up their noses at it.

Myth #3: Babies have sensitive palates that can’t handle strong flavors; I should just stick with applesauce and pureed carrots.

Truth: Infants’ palates and digestive systems are indeed very sensitive to flavors and textures. But as soon as they’re ready to start on solid foods, you can offer them options. Early exposure to a variety of different things to eat, says White, will help them grow more adventurous—although you do need to introduce foods one at a time, to assess any potential adverse reactions. Applesauce, pureed carrots, and avocado are indeed wonderful early foods. But as children get closer to 8 and 12 months, pasta, breads, meats, eggs, and yogurt can be added to the mix. If you’ve got a few extra minutes to spare, making your own baby food lets you adjust flavors and textures to suit your child’s preferences, and also get more adventurous with spices and textures as kids become accustomed to them. Remember, a young child's appetite will vary from meal to meal and day to day, so it's really about going with the flow—offering a few bites and letting your child tell you when he wants more.

Photographs by Melani Lust Photography and Mait Jüriado, via Creative Commons